Because there are many glass ceilings as yet unbroken, noting “firsts” of women in the law is a matter for current events, not just history long past. It should therefore be the task of women’s bar associations, journalists and others interested in the progress of women to ensure that new “firsts” are identified and noted, but only after appropriate research. It is sometimes the case that someone assumes that because something hasn’t happened in recent memory, it has never happened. Once someone is misidentified as a “first,” the mistake is often picked up in subsequent articles and references. Eventually, history is re-written. Adding to the difficulty of identifying “firsts” is the fact that memories vary, bar associations didn’t track members by gender until relatively recently, and definitions aren’t uniform. For example, what does it mean to be the “first female lawyer in the United States”? Is it Margaret Brent, who appeared in court in the Colony of Maryland, or Arabella Mansfield, who was admitted to the bar of Iowa in 1869? Click here for an article about the historical perspective on women lawyers and state bar admission. Careful categorization and precision in language will help to keep the historical record straight!
Click here for information about the first women lawyers and judges in various countries.
Click here for a history list of “firsts” compiled by the New York Women’s Bar Association
Click here for a YouTube video on Belle Mansfield, the first US licensed female attorney.
Click here for an article about Lemma Barkeloo and Phoebe Wilson Couzins, the first US law female law students.
Click here for information about Myra Bradwell, political activist and legal publisher, who appealed to the US Supreme Court for the right for women to practice law.
Click here for information about Charlotte Ray, the first African-American woman lawyer.
Click here for Journeys on the Road Less Travelled: Kansas Women Attorneys.
Click here for a YouTube video on Marion Griffin, the first female lawyer in Tennessee.
Click here for a YouTube video of the first three female justices of the Michigan Supreme Court.
Click here for a film trailer on Patsy Mink, the first Japanese-American female lawyer in Hawaii, and the first Asian-American woman and woman of color elected to the US Congress.
In the 1990s, as numbers of women lawyers increased exponentially, various bar associations celebrated the “First 100 Women Lawyers” or themes such as “First 125 Years of Women “Lawyers.” Here are links to information developed as a result of these and subsequent state or city-focused efforts:
Currently a First Hundred Years program is underway in the United Kingdom to document the history of women in the legal profession. A similar project has been undertaken in Australia, celebrating the First Hundred Years in various Australian states.
Here’s a list of the first women admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court.